He sees the whole of the moon

Mike Scott, the Waterboys' introspective frontman, disappeared for a time to look for inspiration and enlightenment. He tells Glyn Brown how his new album reflects the turmoil of that search
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Mike Scott and I have got off on slightly the wrong foot, I think. Which is a shame, because he's always been a hero of mine. With his wildly passionate band, The Waterboys, and in his subsequent solo career, Scott has brought some of the finest music known to man into existence, from the soaring Whole of the Moon in the Eighties to the vulnerable, questing, heart-on-the-sleeve ballads of the late Nineties.

Mike Scott and I have got off on slightly the wrong foot, I think. Which is a shame, because he's always been a hero of mine. With his wildly passionate band, The Waterboys, and in his subsequent solo career, Scott has brought some of the finest music known to man into existence, from the soaring Whole of the Moon in the Eighties to the vulnerable, questing, heart-on-the-sleeve ballads of the late Nineties.

A restless spirit, he's relocated all over the planet in search of some kind of enlightenment, and along the way seems to have had more crises than I've had packets of Silk Cut Ultra. But either I've got the info wrong or there's a revisionist tendency going on, because apparently there have been no upsets and he's been fairly grounded all along.

Physically, Scott is not the elemental, earth-bestriding colossus I'd anticipated; and is as dapper as a magician in an eye-popping polka-dot shirt and jacket. Phew, that suit's remarkable. "Thank you. I'm dressed head to toe in Versace." Well, I like the shoes. "Not the shoes. Though they are Italian."

He is back on the scene with a new album under the Waterboys monicker, although one of the last times the band played together was a now-legendary Glastonbury set back in 1986.

Shortly after, Scott decamped to Dublin, then to Galway, where he recorded the acclaimed Fisherman's Blues. It's been said something happened then to make him disappear for a while, some kind of... crisis? "Not really. It was more to do with me feeling I was too... not 'available'... 'open' perhaps, so I withdrew the passion into myself for a while."

You've said you were a workaholic before you went on your travels. Do you tend to be a bit obsessive? "Obsessive?" Well, with the workaholism and the lifelong self-questioning. "I've never been obsessive." He looks quite firm on this. "But I do inhabit things fully, I don't do things by halves."

Scott married in Dublin, moved to New York, but tired of the "ceaseless noise". Edinburgh-born, he returned to Scotland, but this time to Findhorn, a remote community on the Moray Firth.

Simultaneously his marriage broke up, and for some of his time at Findhorn he worked on the album Bring 'Em All In, the story of a pilgrimage which began with a psyche in tatters - someone who was "an island of rage", with a "black dog" in his mind.

The black dog was Churchill's phrase for depression, wasn't it? "I wonder if that's where I got it from," he muses. "It's just a song, y'know." Fair enough, but you've said the album's autobiographical. Scott concedes the point - but only on selected tracks, where he talks about wearing a disguise, being "a fool and a clown", and of having "a whole man to rearrange".

Findhorn put him back together. How, I wonder? Is it like a retreat? "No, it's the opposite of that. It's education; they do workshops. It's somewhere I could ground my spiritual life." Scott cultivated the gardens, he worked in the kitchens. But what else? Was he having therapy? "God, no, I've never had therapy. It's not that kind of place." Then how did it manage to alter you so radically? He sits back. "It's a mystery school. Do you know what a mystery school is?" Er... is it like Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books? "No, no!" He's reaching the end of his tether. "Mystery schools take every kind of form, like the meditation school in Holland Park."

But you didn't particularly meditate? "That's something I can do in my own time." There - uh - must be something else you do there? "Well, of course there is." But what is it, what is it? I'm beginning to feel like pond life. "Findhorn," says Scott gently, "is a place where people are very honest with each other, and very clear, and very real." Real, right. "And when you get 500 people being real with each other, it builds up a different energy. In that environment, I had a heart-opening experience - like taking a drug and coming on, except it was real... authentic. I could feel my heart inside my chest, like a fire. The phrase, an open heart - I know what that means now, it's not a cliché. After that experience, I was different."

Added to which, Scott met his current wife at Findhorn. Apparently, having glimpsed her, he put a message on the notice board asking if they could talk. "We went to the pub and I declared myself. She said she'd never thought of me that way, but what I said stayed with her and a couple of days later... it was true for her as well." Blimey, if only life was always that easy.

After Findhorn there was an album, Still Burning, which was good but didn't do much. And then, a year ago, Scott began work on the new endeavour, A Rock In The Weary Land. Which may be called a Waterboys release, but that's to make sure "everyone's gonna hear it", and just means he pulled in a few extras to help out. The result is quite a shock. Pitch-black lyrics roar over distorto-groove synths, dub and a shrieking post-nuclear wind: though the love song (and there is one, almightily powerful) is uplifted by gospel, it's all deeply unsettling - a howl of rage at the greed and stupidity around us. It's one of the best things he's done.

The album reflects both inner and outer turmoil. Scott had a bad time, dropped by record company Chrysalis, having to sell his home. There was also the matter of coming back from Findhorn to London.

"The place seemed full of distortion and illusion. There's more advertising here than ever before - some parts of London are like tunnels of it - and the voice of advertising is so loud that the city can't hear itself dream. And there's a violence, too - all the laddism nonsense, violence masquerading as sensuality on TV and in ads. As soulful beings, which is what we truly are, we have to shut down more and more to survive in this environment." This is the most sense I've heard all week. To illustrate his point, Scott reversed the drum sound on one track, "to get the feeling it was recorded in hell".

On the opening number on the new set, which depicts the city as a millennial netherworld, there's a phrase that runs "Whatever needs to happen, let it happen". It sounds as if Scott's expecting salvation only after the chaos implodes. Well, what does it mean?

"Let it happen? It's an affirmation I learned at Findhorn, based on the belief that the universe is an energy or intelligence itself, more vast than we can comprehend. It has a will that works through us, whether people call it God or the higher self, and one tool of working with it is to say, 'Whatever needs to happen, let it happen'." What about the advertising? He grits his teeth. "Ach, I'm not saying let that happen, I'm not saying let's throw up our hands and give up. It's let something specific happen, the divine will. And, boy, if I get up in the morning and I say that, I have a different day." Enough positive karma and we'll come out of our nosedive? I'm not so sure we can count on success, but maybe that's letting the side down.

Scott says a bit more about feeling we're all part of one consciousness (if only it were true) then, probably with relief, says his goodbyes. As he does, he runs a hand through his hair, leaving one lock sticking up like a question mark. The Riddler? Only to those who can't get the answers through their skull. Scott has found a personal solution, but he clearly still cares massively about the state of things. And that's got to be worth a lot, because it's rarer than hen's teeth these days.

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